When you don’t know where you are going, it’s hard to invite generosity to get you there.

A few years ago, I drove far off the grid on the north shore of Minnesota, not 100% sure that I was on the right road. The road number did not exactly match the directions I’d been given. My phone had no signal so it could not be of help. So, what did I do? Did I pause, back up, and make sure I went in the right direction? Nope!  I just drove faster, hoping it would end well. I hoped I’d get lucky.

As a partner at GSB Fundraising, I work with congregations across the country to help them expand generosity, bringing the best practices of the non-profit fundraising world into the church. 

With these practices, congregations experience an initial surge in giving, mainly because of better tactics for inviting. Yet long term, sustained growth in generosity requires a clear direction. Boldly charging forward without a clear direction just doesn’t work.

In his wonderful little book, A Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen shares, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”  

A few years ago, a pastor in GSB’s Stewardship for All Seasons process felt anxious on their Stewardship Appeal Sunday. In the back row sat a visiting family. The pastor sarcastically thought, “Great! They are going to hear us ask for money and never come back again.” To his amazement, following the service they came to the front, holding the brochure that shared their plans for ministry in the coming year (and inviting growth in giving to make it possible). They said, “We want to join this church. You know where you are going. Most don’t.”

A congregation with a clear vision and mission easily invites financial gifts to make it a reality. It shifts the conversation from please give to the church because we’re behind on our budget to God does amazing things here. Your gifts will help us do even more. It allows a congregation to proudly proclaim not only WHAT they will do, but WHY they will do it.

At GSB, we guide many congregations (and other non-profit organizations) to discern God’s call through strategic planning processes.  FaithX, with their Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report, has become a vital partner in this work.

Identify.  Who are you going to invite to give? 

Inform.  What ministry will happen because of their giving? People want to see that their giving leads to something tangible. Ten kids went to Bible Camp. The food ministry fed 100 people. Ten families attended a mission activity.  Informing answers the ‘what’ question.

Inspire. What difference does it make? People want to hear the impact of their giving. A 5th grader shares how they experienced God in a new way at Bible Camp. A mom shares how here kids do better in school when they are not hungry. Someone from the mission activity shares how their faith was impacted by the event. Inspiring answers the ‘why’ question. 

Invite. The greatest reason people don’t give is that nobody asked. When we only inform and invite it feels like a financial transaction. When we inspire and invite, people get excited to give.

Thank. It’s vital that people know that their gift is appreciated.

Congregations do not live on islands. They find themselves embedded in communities. The NMIR provides critical statistical data that helps congregations connect their purposes to those outside their walls. 

Through the NMIR, one congregation in a first ring suburb learned that within a 5-minute drive of their congregation the median income was $97,000 and 80% white. Within a 10-minute drive that median income dropped to $47,000 and 45% African American. Because of this, their mission plan included significant work outside of their small, white enclave. It led to exciting action, and bold invitations to grow in giving to make it possible.

Another congregation learned that the incidence of rape in their community was double the national average. It led to conversations with local police and social service agencies to see what they could do.

It’s so easy to hurry forward, hoping they we in the right direction, and hoping our congregations are on board. Taking the time to pause, listen, and discern can prepare a congregation to take impactful steps forward.  It directly leads to generosity.

By Rev. Pete Reuss